In this series, we revisit films that deserve another look with fresh eyes
What’s it about?
Released in 2002, the film takes places inside a big house in the middle of a forest, owned by a doctor. Two strangers, Ridhima (Manjula), a pharmaceutical employee, and Madhav (Surya), a junior advocate, are waiting for the man to return from his impromptu trip. The story revolves around these two different people from different backgrounds, and their need to entertain themselves while they wait. They put up a play – a show – for themselves, and things slowly start to get out of hand.
Even though Show won the National Award for best film in Telugu and Neelakanta won a National Award for the screenplay, the film’s acclaim was reserved to the critical sections of the audiences. Neelakanta’s second film Missamma was a bonafide box-office success, but sadly, Show got pushed into obscurity soon after its release.
Why it works
As Telugu cinema viewers, we are used to crowded frames. Filmmakers want their creations to be accessible to all sections of the audience and this results in incessant spoon-feeding via some screenplay device—either a voiceover that gets intrusive or introducing a character who is irrelevant to the plot but is there to bridge the gap. This is why the novelty of a film with only two characters for almost all of its runtime cannot be overstated. 20 years on, this is still an alien concept for Telugu cinema. Show would be refreshing for today’s audience that’s looking for content that cuts through the noise and delivers something unique, even if it’s not perfect.
This film doesn’t work only as an eccentric experiment. It has moments of great depth and understanding
There is a theatrical nature to Show, and the actors, especially Manjula, feel like they’re performing even when they’re alone in the frame. This would’ve seemed odd in any other film, but here it fits. This over dramatised and overstated form of performance enlivens the film and makes it more entertaining. The often loud, and in-your-face tonality of the BGM creates an unique effect; added to this are Ridhima’s long and loud laughs. They all make it impossible to not see that everything unfolding in front of us is fake, even the supposedly real parts. This explains the quote with which the film ends: “The world is but a cosmic drama created by god, for our entertainment only.”
What is more interesting is the two lead actors. Even though Surya was already a veteran, he hadn’t carried an entire film. Even though Manjula is Krishna’s daughter, she’s as unrecognisable as any newcomer. Maybe this is why the film didn’t do well in the theatres. Maybe not. But this chemistry is why the film worked for me. Surya’s character is supposed to be the better actor between the both of them, and he is. He makes us look beyond the frustrated husband template and feel for him, even though you always suspect there’s more to him than meets the eye. Manjula’s Ridhima sympathises with Madhav by listening to him, and empathises with his wife while playing her. It is a tough act, and she pulls it off.
Show manages to talk about arranged marriages, passion, nature, and love, even. Ridhima is written as a seemingly posh and delicate woman but she doesn’t scare from the prospect of spending time alone/or with a stranger in a forest and that’s refreshing to see.
Experiments are good. Experiments as entertaining and light as this film are extra good. But this film doesn’t work only as an eccentric experiment. It has moments of great depth and understanding. The line, ‘People don’t understand how entertaining peace is until they lose it’, gets at the fact that all anyone is looking for is a minute of absolute quiet and harmony with oneself and the world outside.